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The Big Question on… infrastructure

By ucyow3c, on 7 May 2015

The beginning of gutter politics?

Sometimes politics pops up where you least expect it. In the middle of an election campaign politics appears in all the usual places – the health system, taxation, the economy, welfare. But politics doesn’t stop there. In between elections and beyond the headlines, politics still goes on.

Of all the places you would expect to find politics, urban drainage isn’t one of them. It doesn’t appear in any party manifesto. Campaign strategists like Lynton Crosby and David Axelrod are unlikely to be prepping their candidates on how to respond to questions about surface water runoff. Gutter metaphors aside, decisions about how to engineer urban water systems so that our streets and homes don’t flood during rainstorms is not obviously an area for politicians to campaign about. Surely of all things, urban drainage is something for the engineers to deal with, so that politicians can get on with making really tough decisions on important issues, like health, tax and the economy.

Urban drainage engineering has been undergoing a quiet, but significant revolution in recent decades. Until recently drainage in modern cities has been designed so that the water that falls on our streets and roofs is taken away as quick as possible. It keeps us safe from flooding during storms, but it dumps dirty water elsewhere, usually in streams and rivers that suffer from pollution and changing patterns of flow. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on… housing

By ucyow3c, on 6 May 2015

Are the party manifestos addressing the real issues?

The UK has seen some of the highest levels of owner occupation in the world, though rates have declined from 71% in 2003 to around 65% in 2014. But the increase in owner occupation has been accompanied by large falls in local authority house building and decades of under-investment in social housing. Added to this are problems of developers and foreign owners sitting on empty homes and vacant land. In 2014, London’s Evening Standard covered the story of central London’s 740 uninhabited “ghost mansions” – owned by offshore investors and worth up to £3billion. Meanwhile, Department for Communities and Local Government statistics indicate that the numbers sleeping rough in Greater London have increased by 78% between 2010 and 2014, with numbers sleeping rough in England as a whole increasing by 55% over the same period. Government statistics also show that the number of households on local authorities’ waiting lists increased by around 34% between 1997 and 2014.

With the launch of the party manifestos, debates have shifted away from personalities and towards some concrete public policy issues, including what to do about the UK’s housing crisis. The Conservative manifesto has outlined some policy solutions, reflecting two imperatives – one economic, the other political. The first is to provide good quality shelter for everyone and increasing the supply of housing, especially affordable housing, is an essential ingredient for this. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on… global affairs

By ucyow3c, on 6 May 2015

Will government acknowledge the global context for the UK election?  

In a short space of time the UK electorate face a fundamental choice of continuing with austerity and isolationism or swinging back towards social democracy. What is always striking about UK political debates is the lack of discussion of the global context; which is problematic given our role in the world. In this article I want to outline the huge challenges we face in the twenty first century. The most pressing I would suggest are: poverty, security, inequality, environmental degradation and climate change. Of these climate change is the most insidious as it makes all the others worse. Our overarching challenge this century is to build win-win solutions that tackle these multiple challenges. So why not build and implement these in one country, such as the UK, to show that we really can tackle poverty and inequality at the same time as climate change and security.

So let us investigate the state of our planet starting with human health around the globe.  Every year 7 million children die needlessly due to preventable disease and starvation.  700 million people go to bed every night feeling hungry and 1 billion people still do not have access to clean safe drinking water. This is despite the fact that we have enough food and water for all 7 billion people and that every year there is a drop in the total number of people in extreme poverty. But our political-economic system means that many people simply cannot afford basic resources, and by 2050 there could be at least an extra 2 billion people on the planet, mostly in the very poorest countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Why this election matters to you and me?

By ucyow3c, on 5 May 2015

The 7th of May is fast approaching!

Besides the all-important exams, an important national event will be taking place on Thursday – the 2015 General Election.

This year marks the first time Members of Parliament have served a full five-year term before facing the electorate again. If you are planning to stay away from the polling booth, think carefully because:

1. This election is genuinely unpredictable (and interesting)

The latest polling results have produced mixed fortunes for the two major political parties. According to a YouGov survey done on behalf of The Sunday Times between 1st and 2nd May, the Conservatives are projected to secure 34% of the popular vote while Labour polls at 33%. Conversely, an online poll conducted by Survation for Mail on Sunday during the same period suggests Labour will capture the most votes (34%) with the Conservatives trailing at 31%. The contrasting results highlight the sheer unpredictability of this election. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on…energy

By ucyow3c, on 30 April 2015

Will the UK lead the way in reducing emissions from aviation and shipping?

Imagine your MP standing on your doorstep to canvass your vote and to ask you what the UK should do to tackle the climate change impact of aviation and shipping. It’s hard to picture, despite the fact that aviation and shipping are projected to make up 10% of the UK’s CO2 emissions by 2050. These sectors present a regulatory challenge not only for the UN’s civil aviation and maritime organizations, but also for the EU and the UK.

The UK Parliament adopted a Climate Change Act in 2008. This establishes a binding target to reduce the UK’s GHG emissions by at least 80% by 2050. This Act introduced a system of carbon budgets which operate to cap the UK’s emissions over successive five year period. From 2013-2017 for example, the UK’s emissions are to be reduced by 29%. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on…transport

By ucyow3c, on 30 April 2015

Is the economy making us stupid? (It’s the stupid economy)

“HS2 will be an engine for the economy.” “High speed rail does not promote economic growth.” They can’t both be true so please make your selection now. Or maybe the truth is a bit of both, though this would be rather inconvenient for both the promoters and opponents of HS2, not to mention a host of other major transport schemes.

It seems that the economy has become the principal battleground for big transport projects. Congestion, capacity, accessibility: they’re all mentioned but the over-arching issue seems to be the economic impact of such investments. This makes the fact that we remain unsure what the impact is all the more annoying to those who would like to base significant decisions on sound reasoning and evidence. It is quite helpful, though, to those who can make vague claims about growth or prosperity as a substitute for admitting that their enthusiasm for the scheme in question is based on more immediate self-interest. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on…local government

By ucyow3c, on 28 April 2015

Should localism be sped up or slowed down?

Localism has been a key theme of the Administration for the past five years. From day one, Secretary of State Eric Pickles, of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) established momentum to push back responsibilities from central government to localities. The Localism Bill (2011) replaced the previous central control on local authorities, with increased local responsibility. While presented as having the virtues of new freedoms and flexibilities, localism also brought with it an increase in local authority workload and costs in a climate of diminishing support. The removal of central controls on planning, land use and housing also introduced the risks of diverging policy and practice across regions and authorities. This raised the spectre of postcode lotteries and the expensive re-invention of wheels, as best practice was no longer promulgated from the centre. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on…local environment

By ucyow3c, on 28 April 2015

Is recession an opportunity for local places?

Place quality: A 2020 call to action

2020 is just five years away, or to put it another way, in 2020 we will be electing our next parliament. A new post-austerity path towards place quality could empower local government, the development industry, our built environment professions and the diverse local communities of interest to rally behind such a vision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on… infrastructure

By ucyow3c, on 28 April 2015

Would devolution overcome uneven city investment?

Uneven growth, devolution and urban futures research

The financial crises and recession that began in 2008 were initially viewed as an opportunity for rebalancing the UK economy away from financial services towards a broader base, and addressing Britain’s long term north-south divide. The reality of recent years have instead seen a strengthening of regional divisions with high rates of growth in London and the South East, compared to mixed or negative performance in the rest of Britain. While the South East now needs to tackle the knock-on effects of growth in terms of the severe housing shortage, many regions in the UK have struggled to achieve growth.

The 2015 general election is unique for the prominence of city devolution policies by all the major parties. The Conservatives have over the last year been devolving some powers and budgets on and ad-hoc basis to northern cities, while Labour and the Lib Dems propose more comprehensive devolution in their manifesto commitments. These policies are aimed at boosting growth in northern cities and thus narrowing regional disparities. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Question on… energy: Will the new government generate the evidence required to achieve the necessary step change in energy efficiency?

By ucyow3c, on 23 April 2015

The Big Question facing the next UK government on Energy is to achieve a step-change in the demand side management (DSM) of the electricity system and in the installation of energy efficiency measures in buildings.

The policy framework for low-carbon energy supply is now in place and needs to be allowed to bed in with no further major changes. But the same cannot be said for DSM or building energy efficiency, though for different reasons.

The new opportunities for DSM have arisen because of the bringing together of two network technology systems: the electricity network and the network related to information and communication technologies. The much older challenge of making buildings more energy efficient has been thrown into high relief because of the failure of the policies of the last government, despite some useful innovations, to generate building energy efficiency installations at anything like the necessary scale. Read the rest of this entry »